Friday, August 29, 2014

Fall News You Can Use

It's hard to believe that today is the start of Labor Day Weekend and that summer is essentially over, even if our calendar tells us we still have a few weeks left. If school hasn't begun for you or your kids, it certainly will do so next week.

So, we figured it would be a good time to corral all the "Back to School" news and fall events that have filled our mailbox over the past week or so and share some of these with our readers.

Manhattan's Symphony Space will be holding its Thalia Kids Book Club this fall, featuring favorite children's books and their authors. Special treats include appearances by author Lois Lowry (joined by actor Sean Astin and his wife Christine), in honor of the 25th anniversary of her Newbery Medal-winning book Number the Stars (October 19th); David Hyde Pierce and Jane Curtin celebrating E.B. White's classics Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little (November 16th); and Natalie Babbitt, who will mark the 40th anniversary of her book Tuck Everlasting (January 25, 2015). Past year's events have sold out quickly, so don't delay getting tickets.

On Sunday, September 14, the New York Transit Museum in Brooklyn is holding a free program for children with special needs called "Special Day for Special Kids." Kids and their families can explore the museum before it opens to the public.

Another program at the New York Transit Museum recognizes the particular appeal that trains hold for many children on the autism spectrum. The fall Subway Sleuths program for 2nd-5th graders has opened registration. Contact the Museum's Education Manager Elyse Newman at to learn

The Museum of the City of New York has a series of family "drop in" programs scheduled for fall weekends and school holidays. These are free with museum admission.

Advocates for Children of New York has a Start of School fact sheet for New York City parents whose children receive special education services under an IEP (Individualized Education Program). And a fact sheet for families who are new to the public school system, whose child has not been assigned to a New York City school, can be found on the website of the New York City Department of Education.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Study: Real-Life “Thinking Caps” Improve Learning Outcomes

“Put on your thinking cap” could soon be more than just a colloquialism. Psychologists at Vanderbilt University have developed a “cap” that caused subjects to make fewer errors when learning a novel task.

Robert Reinhart and Geoffrey Woodman, coauthors of the study, were interested in the negative voltage produced in our brain’s medial-frontal cortex when we make errors. They hypothesized that we learn from errors in response to this electric impulse. Animal trials indicated that it was possible to regulate these electrophysiological impulses so that they were stronger or weaker in conjunction with a subject’s errors. The technique had never been tested with human subjects before, though.

In their study, Reinhart and Woodman fitted subjects with an elastic headband that held two electrodes in place on subjects’ heads. One electrode was placed on the crown of the head, and the other lay on the subject’s cheek. The electrodes delivered a very gentle electric current through the subjects’ skin and skull and into their brains. (Don’t worry, it didn’t hurt! Subjects reported that the sensation felt like tingling or tickling.) Each subject was randomly assigned to receive stimulation according to one of three conditions: 1) a current running anodally, from crown to cheek, 2) a current running cathodally, in the opposite direction, from cheek to crown, and 3) no current at all, but a sensation designed to simulate the feeling of one. Subjects weren’t able to tell which of the three stimulations they were receiving.

After 20 minutes of stimulation, subjects began a learning task. Through trial and error, they had to figure out which buttons on a game controller corresponded with colors displayed on a screen. Since they had to make decisions very quickly, they made plenty of errors, resulting in lots of opportunities for their medial-cortexes to fire.

During the learning task, Reinhart and Woodman monitored the electrical activity in the subjects’ brains. The results of this monitoring, and of the subjects’ learning outcomes, demonstrated a clear trend: 75% of the subjects who had received anodal stimulation (crown to cheek) produced much more negative voltage with each error than the cathodal (cheek to crown) group; they demonstrated much smaller spikes in medial-cortex negative voltage when they answered incorrectly. Strikingly, negative voltage spikes were strongly associated with better performance on the task. The anodal group mastered the matching game more quickly, while the cathodal group made more errors and required more time to learn the task.

Reinhart describes the results as “extraordinary” since an external stimulus was able to make subjects more cautious, less error-prone, and more adaptable. It should be noted that the error rates between the two groups differed very little, only four percent. However, Woodman observes that this rate is far better than rates found in studies of pharmaceuticals or psychological therapy. The effects of the electrical stimulation transferred to other tasks and lasted an average of five hours.

These “thinking caps” certainly have implications for improving learning. Further, they could prove beneficial for the treatment of conditions which are associated with performance-monitoring deficits, like ADHD and schizophrenia.

The full study can be found in the Journal of Neuroscience.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Five Years of Blogging at The Yellin Center

In August of 2009, the Yellin Center team was looking for a way to share information with the families, students, and educators we serve. We can't remember which one of us came up with the idea of creating a blog, but we soon became bloggers - learning how to post our pieces and to add links, photos, videos, and labels. Five years and almost 800 posts later, The Yellin Center Blog is still rolling along, with new posts two or three times each week. Some of these feature specific authors, like the terrific blogs by Learning Specialist Beth Guadagni, or the legal blogs by Susan Yellin, Esq., our Director of Advocacy and Transition Services, or the blogs on medical or policy issues written by Dr.Yellin.

Even well after they are posted, our blog posts continue to help us answer questions from parents and students. Some topics -- especially questions about special education laws and procedures -- just make more sense when they are set out in writing and parents tell us it is very helpful to be directed to a specific blog as a starting point for helping them with a question.

Each of our posts is "tagged" with labels, noting the topics it covers. When you look at the home page for our blog, you can either search a specific topic, or you can browse the topics we have covered and just click on the one that interests you. The list of topics has variable type size; the more posts that include that particular topic, the larger the font in which it appears. So, subjects like books, reading, research, and resources have appeared quite often, while we have only written one blog about snow days.

We welcome guest bloggers and have had parents, students, and teachers write about their personal experiences. Please let us know if you would like to contribute a guest blog. The list below does not have live links to our posts, but we thought you would find it interesting to see the wide range of topics we have covered. You can find the active version of this list at the blog home page and click on those subjects which interest you. Happy reading!

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